The big question isn’t will you or won’t you go to this historical wasteland on the northwest coast of Lana'i, called Keahilkawelo, but will you drive their on your own. After learning my 4-wheel drive limits at Waipio Valley on the Big Island, I opted for a driver and after you see the footage of the road, you might too. It takes about 45 minutes to get there and you should plan on spending at least an hour exploring the area. The dramatic reds and oranges of the landscape are the ideal backdrop for Hawaiian lore and when I asked Kepa Maly, executive director of the Lana’i Cultural Museum about the area, I was not disappointed.
First of all Garden of the Gods, he says, was a name given to the area by a Alexander Hume Ford, a writer for the Honolulu Pacific Advertiser (which eventually became the Honolulu Advertiser), because Ford thought the landscape looked much like a place he knew in Colorado with the same name. However the Hawaiian name is Keahilkawelo, which does not translate to anything close to Garden of the Gods. Instead it means, fire made by Kawelo.
According to Mely, the story is about a priest in antiquity whose people on Lana’i were worried about the fact that their animals were dying. And it was discerned that these deaths were caused by the prayers from a priest from Molokai being sent with the power of a fire. So in response, Kawelo started his own fire and offered his own prayers to protect his people. Eventually Kawelo won the battle. And in keeping fire stoked, he used all of the trees and bushes in the area, which is why it is so barren today.
Mely continues, "As you stand there, you will notice that there is a consistent breeze, it is called hoo moe pili, which means the buffeting wind that causes the pili grass to lie down. However on the day Kawelo won the battle, there was a wind called nalua from the southwest blowing across the island. From this breeze, it is said the purple lehua blossom was created. To this day, this unusual flower only grows on Lana’i.